Ljubodrag Simonović: Bourgeoisie and proletariat


Ljubodrag Simonović
e-mail: comrade@orion.rs
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             One of the most important ideas from the Manifesto of the Communist Party called into question by contemporary capitalism is that of capitalism’s being a “revolutionary“ order and, consequently, the bourgeoisie’s being is a “revolutionary“ class. According to Marx, the main historical “task“ of the bourgeoisie is to enable man to gain control over natural laws and thereby free himself from his dependency on nature and exhausting physical labor, so as to enable him to develop his universal creative powers. The “revolutionary role“ of the bourgeoisie is to create conditions for a “leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom“ (Engels). This is the main reason why Marx attaches primary importance to the development of productive forces. At the same time, the bourgeoisie is an exploiting class that becomes reactionary when capitalist private ownership starts to hinder the development of the productive forces. That is the right moment for a socialist revolution.

            For Marx, the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is dialectical. The bourgeoisie produces the proletariat as its antipode: the nature of the bourgeoisie conditions the nature of the proletariat. According to Marx, the revolutionary character of capitalism, which, above all, strives for the abolishment of man’s dependency on nature through the capitalist development of productive forces, offers workers the possibility of a revolutionary transformation of society. The conquered natural elements open the possibility of establishing a form of labor that will enable man to realize his creative powers and a social order that will put an end to man’s exploitation by others. For Marx, the most important task of the working class is to liberate humankind from inhuman living conditions and the class order. It is clearly stated in Marx’s “categorical imperative”: “To overthrow all those conditions in which man is an abased, enslaved, abandoned, contemptible being…”  In The Holy Family, Marx writes: “When socialist writers ascribe this historic role to the proletariat, it is not, as critical criticism would have one think, because they consider the proletarians to be gods. Quite the contrary. Since the abstraction of all humanity, even of the semblance of humanity, is practically complete in the fully-formed proletariat; since the conditions of life of the proletariat sum up all the conditions of life of society today in their most inhuman and acute form; since man has lost himself in the proletariat, yet at the same time has not only gained theoretical consciousness of that loss, but through the no longer removable, no longer disguisable, absolutely imperative need—the practical expression of necessity—is driven directly to revolt against that inhumanity: it follows that the proletariat can and must free itself. But it cannot free itself without abolishing the conditions of its own life. It cannot abolish the conditions of its own life without abolishing all the inhuman conditions of life of society today which are summed up in its own situation.”

             Marx points out “social” and “historical” causes that provoke workers to initiate the struggle against capitalism. Paramount among these are the immediate existential (economic) threat, the ruthless exploitation, the inhuman working and living conditions that jeopardize workers’ health, the humiliation to which they are regularly subjected… Ecological conditions do not count as the proletariat’s “living conditions”. The proletariat will not be “historically compelled” to stop the destruction of life on the planet and save humankind from obliteration. If Marx had regarded capitalism as an order that threatens nature and man as a human and natural being, then the awareness of the need to preserve life on the planet would have been the basis for shaping the workers’ class consciousness and a signpost in the struggle against capitalism. Marx does not mention capitalism’s destructive relation to nature as a possible precondition for a socialist revolution. His view of capitalism as a “revolutionary order” that marks the end of the “pre-history“ of humankind and the creation of the “material conditions” for a new society (just like Engels’ view that capitalism creates the possibilities for a “leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom”) indicates his relation to capitalism. Marx’s “categorical imperative”, which is the basis for the formation of workers’ class(self)-consciousness and as such is the supreme political principle, does not imply the ecocidal nature of capitalism and does not seek to develop in workers an emancipated (belligerent) ecological consciousness. Marx withheld the most important aspect of the workers’ class-consciousness:  the concept that capitalism is a destructive order and that capitalist class domination has an ecocidal character. According to Marx, capitalism reaches its end primarily by causing the economic crisis that occurs because of the productive relations (private ownership) becoming an obstacle to further growth of the productive forces, and not by the development of any processes that are detrimental to nature and man. The starting point in the struggle against capitalism is not its (potentially) destructive character, because the only force that will bring man to struggle is an immediate threat to his survival. These Marxian views are imbued with political realism. However, Marx’s indication that capitalism exhausts the soil and thus jeopardizes the survival of future generations (humankind) leads to the conclusion that, instead of “waiting” for the productive forces to come into conflict with the productive (proprietary) relations, workers should be moved to start a decisive fight against capitalism by the increasingly dramatic destruction of nature.

             The capitalism’s development as an ecocidal order leads to society’s increasing fragmentation, not only along the lines of wealth but also as to the accessibility to protection against more and more lethal climate changes, the pollution of food, water, air… Class divisions within a society have long been defined by natural living conditions and the possibilities for protection against the consequences of environmental degradation. Those most affected are on the lowest rung of the social ladder and on the margins of “globalization”. Workers and their children are more directly impacted by both the economic crises of capitalism and global ecological degradation. Indeed, in his Early Writings, Marx indicates that contaminated water and air have become the workers’ way of life, but he has in mind the daily existence of workers in factories and mines, as well as in the apartment blocks built in the immediate vicinity of industrial and mining sites, and not the planet-wide ecological pauperism brought about by the obliteration of nature as a life-generating whole and the production of a technical world.
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